A small crowd gathered in the cafeteria of Pine Island Elementary school Thursday night to learn about prescription drug abuse prevention.
Dr. Omar Riche, medical director for Lee Memorial Behavioral Health Center, began the presentation by telling the crowd that 3.4 percent of Lee County middle and high school students reported that they used prescription drugs in the last 30 days compared to 2.9 percent for youth across Florida.
He said the popular drugs that are being used include opioids, benzodiazepines, stimulants, prescription sleeping meds and marijuana synthetic spice. The reason these are being used, Riche said, is because of stress, social acceptance, self medication, misinformation and access.
"Kids and teenagers assume risk is not that great," he said.
Riche said unfortunately kids are switching what kind of drug they are using because they think they are staying under the radar. He said teens are really experimenting by going from one drug to another.
The risk factors for teens who are abusing drugs are low parent supervision or communication, family conflicts, inconsistent or severe parental discipline and history or drug abuse. The individual risk factors include learning problems, poor impulse control, emotional instability and physical or sexual abuse.
Riche said those who have been traumatized and abused, especially teen girls, numb themselves by using drugs to escape the pain.
His presentation also touched upon the importance of parents starting dialogue about drugs with their child at a young age because it reduces their use of drugs.
In addition, Riche said parents have to share clear expectations of what they want out of their children. He said parents cannot assume or look the other way because if there is a problem it needs to be discussed.
The highest rate of drug use occurs between the hours of 3-6 p.m., when parents are not home from work yet.
"A prime time after school," Riche said.
A few personal stories were also shared during the presentation of how prescription drugs affected them and their family.
Shawn Seliger was one of those speakers.
"An issue that touches my heart . . . substance abuse," he said. "I'm here to save lives and help people."
While in college, he said his life began to turn in a direction he knew should not continue.
Because of that awareness, in 1993 he turned his life around while sitting in the park by himself because he did not like how he felt. From there he followed his dreams, goals and ambitions.
"I took responsibility of life," Seliger said, during his last semester at college.
That change led him to teaching in Los Angeles at one of the highest gang and drug schools in the state of California.
"It was very rewarding because I was able to connect with people," Seliger said.
In 2005, he got married and eventually became the stepfather of three children. Unfortunately, in 2010 one of his step children tragically passed away due to multiple substance abuses of prescribed drugs, street drugs and alcohol while in college.
"We lost someone we loved and cared about," Seliger said.
The family soon fell apart.
"In 2011, I ended up losing my family, two stepchildren and former wife," he said. "I refused to be a victim and took responsibility of my life."
Selinger told the parents in the audience to pay attention to their children.
"If you see your child struggling, do something, don't turn the other cheek," he said. "When you don't notice, that's when someone dies. Permissive parenting is where it all begins."
Seliger continued to tell the parents not to criticize or ridicule the child, just help them.
Lori Brooks, Lee County School District counseling services coordinator, also shared information with the audience of how help is being dispersed in the school system.
"Drug use, abuse and addiction can impact everyone," she said, adding that prevention is education.
Brooks said it is key for a parent to stay one step ahead of their children. She said it is important for parents not to talk about prescription drugs in front of their children.
"If mom and dad can take it, it won't do anything to me," Brooks said. "Avoid talking about prescription drugs that you are on in front of kids."
Another key point that she shared during her presentation is the importance of parents knowing who their children's friends are.
"Knowing first and last names are always key," Brooks said. "Be involved, be engaged, that is the greatest gift you can give to your child."
Kevin Lewis, Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida chairman, ended the meeting by sharing with the crowd that when adults have relationships with others they are becoming a part of the solution.
"Look at the people we see every day and don't be afraid to reach out," he said.
Lewis said addiction can be a tragic disease but a common disease.